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Texas congressman suggests drilling for gas, oil in US national parks

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US Representative Pete Olson, R-Texas, on Tuesday called for less federal regulation for oil and gas drilling, including allowing some drilling in national parks.

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Olson, who spoke at the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners annual convention in Fort Worth, called for easing environmental restrictions in order to open up more federal lands to oil and gas development, and taking other pro-development steps such as revising the Endangered Species Act to avoid shutting out prospective areas to drilling.

On the sidelines of the conference, Olson said he would favor easing the federal restrictions on drilling in national parks. Texas has been able to significantly ramp up its oil and gas production in part because the state has relatively little federally controlled land, he commented.

"Guys on the West Coast ... west of the Mississippi, they know they've got oil and gas under the land that they can't touch because it's on a national park or some sort of federal land," he said.

Currently, there is limited drilling in some national parks in Texas and Florida, where oil and gas activity predated the creation of the park.

Olson said the exploration and production industry can operate safely within national parks, while preserving the parks' scenic and ecological values.

"Working with the parks system, without destroying the parks' value, we can do both. We've proven that we can do that here in in Texas," he said.

He pointed to the flurry of Permian Basin oil and gas activity taking place close to Big Bend National Park.

"There's drilling out there, but there's been no impacts on Big Bend," he said.

Olson contended that the Obama administration is seeking to expand environmental restrictions that restrict oil and gas drilling on federal lands to cover state and private lands, a move that could jeopardize the US oil and gas production renaissance.

He contrasted these policies with those of Mexico, where the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto has sought to relax his government's grip on hydrocarbon production.

"The new president has been very aggressive trying to modernize their oil and gas industry; more private sector, less public sector. That will be better for us in the future as well," Olson said.

Olson also called for speeding up the federal process for approving the construction of liquefied natural gas export terminals, particularly in light of the international crisis in Ukraine. He said that if the US already had built a viable LNG export industry, it would be in a stronger position to deal with Russia over the situation in Ukraine.

"We could give them gas to take away the stranglehold Russia has out there," he said.

"We've been so far behind this curve. We've been going back and forth, back and forth, saying 'you can't export LNG.' We can't do anything right now, but we need to keep pushing, to get these permits approved, get construction going and get the gas out on the market," he said.

He added that he is concerned that Russian President Vladimir Putin has designs on several neighboring former Soviet republics, such as Azerbaijan, which are rich in energy resources.

"All these former Soviet countries, if Putin wants them, we can't stop them from going across the border," Olson said.

Olson also said a change in the law that gives the Energy Department the authority to limit LNG exports to countries with which the US does not have a free trade agreement would benefit US allies such as India.

"They crave our natural gas. With 1.3 billion people, it's a democracy in a bad part of the world. If we can give them natural gas, we develop a better relationship with them, have better security and create American jobs. It's a win-win-win," he said.

"If we don't do it, Australia or someone else will fill that market up," Olson said.

--Jim Magill,
--Edited by Katharine Fraser,